About the Author

C.K. Kelly Martin

C.K. KELLY MARTIN's bestselling debut novel, I Know It's Over, was published in 2008. It was followed by One Lonely Degree, The Lighter Side of Life and Death, My Beating Teenage Heart and the sci-fi thriller, Yesterday. A graduate of the Film Studies program at York University, Martin currently resides in Oakville, Ontario.

Books by this Author
I Know It's Over
Excerpt

one

The first time Sasha lay spread across my bed, I felt like the world had changed. She was wearing cutoff jean shorts and a plain white T-shirt, not the tiny, cropped kind lots of girls wear—Sasha never wears that kind of stuff. “So it has to be my rules,” she repeated, propping her head up and peering steadily into my eyes. I stared at her long, tan legs and thought: Don’t screw this up now, Nick.

“Your rules,” I agreed, and I didn’t screw it up, not then anyway. We went on like that for nearly five months, stretching her rules, rewriting them together, until she told me we were getting too serious, that I was too much of a distraction and she had her whole future to think about.

“I want to worry about school,” she said, crossing her arms and frowning like only Sasha can—like the world was coming to an end. “Not about trying to get on the pill.”

Now I know she was wrong about the world, though—either wrong or early—because I can live without Sasha. The past month has proven that. But I don’t know how to deal with what she’s telling me now.

“Say something,” she says urgently, grabbing my arm and squeezing hard. “Don’t do this to me, Nick.”

I glance up the driveway towards my house, at the icicle lights everyone but my mom continually forgets to switch on, and wrench my arm away. Dad will be here to pick me up in less than an hour. Christmas at his place with Bridgette—that was my big problem until thirty seconds ago.

“Nick,” Sasha repeats. Snow is falling on her hair and she’s wearing the leather gloves her mom bought her at the end of October. She still looks beautiful to me, or at least I know she would if I could feel anything.

I run a hand through my snow-crowned hair and say, “This has to be a mistake.” It’s what everybody says and now I know why.

“Don’t you think I checked?” Her hands close into fists. “You think I’d come over here to tell you if I didn’t know for sure?”

“I don’t know what you’d do, Sasha.” I squint in her direction. The sky is filled with white as bright as sunshine. “I don’t know you anymore, remember?”

Sasha laughs like she hates me. She turns in the direction of the road and stands there, motionless. She’s prepared to wait, to become some kind of ice princess at the edge of my lawn. Not a nice fairy tale—the pregnant ex-girlfriend—but then I guess most of them aren’t. Not in the beginning anyway. I glance at the dark hair spilling down the back of Sasha’s coat and shiver. My heart stopped beating at the beginning of this conversation.

“So what do you want me to say?” I snap, taking a step back. Sasha laughs again, shakes her head, and stares down my street. What has she done to deserve this, that’s what she’s thinking, no doubt. There’s snow on her lashes, her cheeks are red from the cold, and suddenly I feel like a complete asshole.

“Does anyone else know?”

“Lindsay was there when I took the test.” She swivels to watch me from the corner of her eyes. It’s not safe to look at me yet. She doesn’t know who I’ll be.

“What about your parents?”

Sasha doesn’t laugh this time. Her parents aren’t a joke to either of us. We spent five months arranging meetings behind their backs and coaching Lindsay and Sasha’s other friends on alibis. We never even came close to getting caught. Or so I thought.

So what happened? Okay, I know what happened, but it barely qualified as a mistake. And it was once, that’s all. I reach out and touch Sasha’s arm—she doesn’t pull away. She’s more mature than I am maybe, at the very least she’s had more time to think. “We should’ve gone—” I begin, but Sasha’s way ahead of me.

“I know we should’ve.” Her cheeks hollow out as the cold steals the word from her lips. “I wish we did. It’s too late now.” Our eyes lock. Freeze. Dart away. “Shit!” Sasha exclaims, her eyes on the road.

Mom is motoring up the street towards us, waving, with her extreme happy face fixed firmly in place. If there’s one thing I can’t deal with now, it’s that lame happy holiday face. The real thing is bad enough, but Mom’s imitation sucks any real life out of the holidays and reminds me of a time when they used to mean something besides trying too hard. Or maybe back then I was too impressed by stuff like company Christmas parties where the boss would dress up as a skinny Santa Claus and dole out cheap board games and action figure knockoffs. I mean, I know it wasn’t perfect. I remember the arguments as well as anyone, but I also remember the four of us driving around looking at Christmas lights for weeks beforehand and my parents taking turns bringing my sister, Holland, and me shopping for each other’s presents. Some of that was real. I can feel the difference.

“Sasha, I have to go,” I say. “My dad’s picking me up soon.”

Sasha shoots me an incredulous glare. “This is important.”

“Yeah, I know.” I take a step back as Mom pulls into the drive. “I’ll call you when I get there, okay?”

Sasha doesn’t wait for my mom to get out of the car. She storms off, kicking up snow and folding her arms in front of her. I know that’s a shitty thing to do—just let her go like that—but I can’t help it. Well, I could, but I don’t want to have to try. I keep thinking maybe she’s wrong about the whole thing. Those tests can’t be a hundred percent accurate—nothing is.

Mom opens the car door, ducks down in front of the passenger seat, and emerges with a collection of bags. “Nicholas, give me a hand,” she says, handing me half her stash. That stupid stale smile is stretched across her face so tight she’s practically mummified. “Get the door, please,” she sings, all nursery rhyme–like. I’m glad I’m not going to be here for Christmas, if you want to know the truth. All the pretending gives me a massive headache, but whenever Holland or I decide to stop, Mom withdraws into a catatonic state.

From the Hardcover edition.

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My Beating Teenage Heart
Excerpt

The first moment is utter darkness. The absence of thought, the absence of everything. An absence that stretches infi nitely backwards and threatens to smother your sanity—if there was a you, that is. But there’s not. I am nothing and no one. I never was. I must not have been because otherwise, wouldn’t I remember?
 
Don’t look back. Don’t let the darkness inside you.
 
If I’m talking to myself, there must be a me. That in itself is a revelation. I exist. The second before was starkly empty and now I’m swimming with celestial stars. They’re as silent as stones but they shimmer, glimmer and shine. I think . . . I think I can hear them after all but not in a way I’ve heard anything before.
 
The sound isn’t music and it’s not whispers. I don’t have words to describe it. If teardrops, blinding sunshine and limitless knowledge combined to make a noise, it would be the one the stars hum while I fl oat amongst them. I don’t know much, but this is something I’m certain I’m learning for the fi rst time: the stars know things that we don’t and they always have.
 
And then, just as my mind begins to expand with questions
—who am I?
—where is this?
—how am I . . .
 
I’m falling, plummeting through the glittering darkness at a speed that would normally make your stomach drop. Instinct kicks in and makes me throw out my hands to break my fall. Only, I don’t have any—no hands and no stomach either. The fear of falling exists in my consciousness and nowhere else. There’s nothing I can do to stop my descent. Beneath me continents of light beam their brightness as I speed towards them.
 
Catch me, stars. Help me.
 
But they’re not stars, as it turns out. They’re the lights you see from a jumbo jet when you’re coming in for a night landing. They make civilization appear minuscule and for some reason that makes me want to sob but I can’t do that either. No hands, no stomach, no tears.
 
What happens when I hit bottom?
 
I’m so close now that I can spy individual cars, streetlamps, house lights left on.
 
Is someone, someplace, waiting for me, leaving the light on?
Where am I supposed to be?
 
A pointed suburban roof reaches up to meet me, and if I have no body, surely there are no bones to shatter, no damage to fear, but my consciousness fl inches anyway. It quakes and tries to yank whoever or whatever I am away from the solid mass shooting up underneath me.
 
In the split second it takes to realize I’ve failed, I’m already through the ceiling. Inside, falling still. Falling . . . and then not.
 
I don’t crash. I don’t even touch down. All I can do is stare into the pair of blinking eyes below me. They’re not even a foot away. They’re the distance you hold yourself from someone when you’re on your way to a kiss. I don’t remember my own kisses but I remember the concept the same way I remember what a roof or a jumbo jet is. I remember romance, yearning, love and hate in a way that has nothing to do with me. Maybe I’ve never been in love—or maybe it’s happened a hundred times but so very long ago that I’ve forgotten each of them. I can’t decide which idea is sadder.
 
The eyes open and close as I stare at them. His eyes. The white boy’s. They’re not staring back at me, but looking clean through. If I had a body I’d estimate it was hovering just above his, toe to toe and head to head with him.
 
It’s night and we’re cloaked in darkness, the two of us.
 
But he’s the only one who’s truly here. Here. Wherever that is. I’d move if I could, give him the space he doesn’t realize he’s lacking. I feel awkward, embarrassed about all I can see from here—his pores, his nose hairs, a cracking bottom lip that could use lip balm—even though he doesn’t appear to have a clue he’s being spied upon. But there’s nothing I can do about it. I’m like a camera, picking up images but not in control of angles or focal length.
 
So I watch the boy’s eyelashes flutter and listen to him breathe. What his lungs expel sounds like a steak knife slashing into meat. Not like an asthmatic but like someone so steeped in despair it’s a wonder he hasn’t drowned in it. How long can someone live like this? It hurts to hear. My nonexistent hands clamp themselves over my nonexistent ears.
 
Outwardly, my focus barely shifts. I’m still fl oating over him, listening to breaths of bottomless anguish. Wait . . . I must be asleep. My fall from the stars and the hurt I hear in this boy’s breathing, they can’t be real. This vision I’m watching is nothing but a wildly vivid dream. When I wake up tomorrow, with my stomach, my hands and all my memories intact, I’ll shake my head at my panic. Then I’ll grab a pen and jot the details down before they fade to nothing. I imagine how crazy every bit of this will seem when I read it back in the morning. Stars that make a noise of wisdom. The power to read emotions through someone’s breath.
 
Insane. Even for a dream. Why not dream of something my eyes would want to linger on—the rapturous merging of two bodies or a purple sky hanging over a majestic blue- green waterfall? Why dream of this sad boy?
 
I examine him, attempt to cement the details in my mind so I can record them when I wake up, and as I’m watching I realize I can shift the camera here and there after all—not much, but a little. Yes, I can stare at him from the end of the bed if I prefer, or from a blue acoustic guitar leaning against the wall near his window. Maybe I can even . . . No, I can’t escape the room, can’t leave him behind. That’s beyond my power. He’s meant to be the star of this dream for reasons my unconscious isn’t ready to share with me. I notice that when I turn away from him to study the room, my gaze jumps inadvertently back to him before long.
 
And when it does this is what I see: a white boy of about sixteen or seventeen, curly brown hair framing his face. His eyes are light but in the dark I can’t determine whether they’re green, blue or even hazel. The boy’s lying in bed in a gray T-shirt, his bare arms stretched over the covers. He’s motionless. Stiller than still except for the blinking. The horrible breathing has stopped, or so it seems. When I listen more intently I realize I can still hear it if I choose. There are some things I can control within this dream, evidently, and this strange audio ability is one of them.
 
I watch the teenage boy close his eyes. A cell phone rings on the bedside table next to him. My eyes follow his as they dart to the phone and I wonder if the call is important in the scheme of this dream fi ction. Perhaps the real action is fi nally getting started.
 
Who wants to stand by and be a helpless witness to the grip of misery? I hope, since I’m being forced to take in this vision, that the dream’s preparing to morph into something more entertaining—maybe something more closely resembling an action movie or thriller. Do I like chase scenes and gunfi re in movies? Shouldn’t I be able to remember that, even in my sleep?
 
Once the phone falls silent, the boy reaches for it, looks to check who called and begins to set it down again. It erupts in his hand and I could swear this time it’s louder, almost like a siren. If I have to guess I’d say I’m hearing the phone the same way he is—with added urgency. This time he switches his phone off before returning it to its space on the bedside table. The boy’s gaze fl ashes away from his cell and towards the alarm clock next to it: 12:23. He lies back in bed, his eyes glued to the ceiling where I both am, and am not. Long moments pass like this. 12:24. 12:25. 12:26. I begin to feel like I’m waiting for a change of scene that will never occur. At last a light tap at the door breaks the spell.
 
The boy’s eyes snap shut as if on cue.
 
“Breckon?” a middle- aged man with a receding hairline whispers as he pops his head around the now- open door. The man’s tie is askew and he smooths it down with one hand and then eases the door open wider, waiting for the boy— Breckon—to stir.
 
Breckon does no such thing, although I know he’s awake. The man pads towards him, sighs silently and sits on the side of his bed. He does this carefully, so as not to awaken the boy I now know to be Breckon. I wonder if the man is his father and if he wishes Breckon would open his eyes and speak to him or whether he prefers this false silence.
 
The sound of Breckon’s breath still hurts if I let it, but I don’t. I use the special volume control that allows me to swing down the audio on that alone. His father, or whoever the man is, doesn’t seem to hear anything unusual. At fi rst he surveys the moonlit walls—a key- chain collection hanging from four curtain rods mounted one beneath the other on the far wall, a surreal Dalí print tacked up close to the door and nearer the bed posters of Pink Floyd’s The Wall and a photographic image of a soccer ball sailing through a blue sky.
 
Dalí. I remember Salvador Dalí. Jumbo jets, kisses, Salvador Dalí and Pink Floyd too. How I wish, how I wish you were here. I hear the lyrics play inside my head and the memory of them makes some currently unknowable part of me ache.

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One Lonely Degree
Excerpt

Chapter One

Things don't always change with a bang. Sometimes they change so gradually that you can't clearly pinpoint the last moment they were truly the same. That's the way it was with my parents. I know they were happy--but I couldn't tell you exactly when.

Audrey says they could just be going through a bad patch and that things could start changing back when I least expect it. Anything is possible. That's almost the truth, but it doesn't fill me with hope. Anything is possible makes me feel like someone's scraping at the inside of my rib cage with dull scissors. If you kept that idea in your head, you'd never leave the house for fear you'd be crushed by a runaway bus or gunned down in the mall parking lot.

Anything is possible is something I prefer not to think about, but I don't always have a choice. Some nights are just like that. The sick feelings creep up on me until I want to shout so loud that it would make my parents come running. I never do, of course. It wouldn't help, and my parents would cart me off to some highly recommended shrink that would want to know everything.

And there are things I could say, but not anything that I actually want anyone to hear. There are thoughts in my head that I can't get out, but I have my own trick for dealing with them, which is to let other things in, as loud and furious as I can.

Tonight, for instance, I have to keep pulling off my earphones to listen for my dad's key in the front door. Raine Maida screams "Naveed" in my ears. Listen. Then it's "Where Are You," "Innocent," and "Yellow Brick Road." Listen. The pounding in my ears, the sound of Raine's voice like burning gold, and the blanket pulled all the way up to my chin is the nearest thing I know to an antidote, but if Dad hears the music he'll open the door and ask why I'm still awake. It's happened before. I used to keep the bedside lamp on, and a couple months ago, around two in the morning, he tapped at my door and asked if I was sick.

"No," I told him. "Just a little insomnia." My face felt like a bleached white sheet, and I was scared that he'd sense my bad feelings and try to put them into words.

"You could try turning down the volume," he said, smiling.

A guitar riff was screeching out of the earphones around my neck, and I furrowed my eyebrows, puffed out my cheeks, and said, "Ha. Ha." Everyone is so sarcastic these days that it's practically boring, but I need all the crutches I can get.

"And turning off the light," he added, still hovering in the doorway in his plaid pajamas and slippers, looking like a sitcom TV father that can solve any problem within thirty minutes.

"You're funny, Dad." I pulled an impatient face. "Anyone ever tell you you're a funny guy?"

"Not my teenage daughter," he said, smile as wide as ever. "Don't go deaf tonight, Finn. You have school in the morning."

I nodded and watched him shut the door, the sickness stretching tight across my face the moment he was gone. My skin feels that same way now. Like a mask that doesn't fit anymore. Like I'm not the person anyone thinks I am--not even Audrey. But if I'm not that person, just who am I instead? I'm not the girl who slinks soundlessly through the school hall pretending nothing can touch her. That much I do know.

Listen, I tell myself. Just listen. Listen. Everything will be all right, as long as you stop your mind and listen.

And this is the way it goes for a while. Me listening to Raine's voice in my ear. Me waiting for Dad's key in the door. My heels are itchy dry in my socks. My lips are cracking and my fingertips will be next. The air in my room is colder than anywhere else in the house except the basement. My mother says she doesn't know how I can stand it, but I like the contrast. This is me in bed in the middle of winter.

Everything will be all right.

From the Hardcover edition.

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The Lighter Side of Life and Death
Excerpt

There are certain things you know you'll always remember. Like the way Miracle stares at me when we hear the gunshot. Our eyes lock fast. Hers shine with resignation, pain and the kind of love I can only begin to understand. Suddenly I can't catch my breath. I'm beyond anything I ever wanted to feel. It's low and high, intertwined like a double helix, and I mumble to Monica G as I rush offstage, my body racked with dread.  

But this isn't the end. Not yet. I stumble back under the lights, bury my head in Miracle's chest and try to speak. Don't, she says. She has the last lines. There's nothing else for me to remember, nothing to do but watch her and let the final moments roll over me. My eyes burn as I look and listen but I don't fight it. I want to be fearless like Miracle. I want it to hurt so everyone can see.  

Then there's just silence stretched out in front of us in the darkness. I wipe my face as we scramble offstage, and Miracle grabs my sleeve and whispers something I can't quite hear. I nod anyway, feeling wounded and amazed. It's like we're all incredible--me,Miracle, Monica G, Charlie Kady, Y and Z, Jamie and everyone else who made this happen. We're even better than last night and the night before that. It makes me wonder just how good we could be if there was a next time.   Everyone claps for us. Not just polite applause but like they really got it. On stage we hold hands and bow, and the feeling just keeps growing. We did good; we did awesome. I love these people next to me, Miracle channeling Meryl Streep and Monica G squeezing my hand and Jamie pulling strings in the background and Y and Z looking deep in love with each other, beaming with pride. I tell you, if you could bottle what I'm feeling right now, you'd be a billionaire. My cells are singing an anthem.  

They're still singing when I stride out to the lobby afterwards. I'm swarmed by people clapping me on the shoulder and hurling praise in my direction. Then it's Dad's turn and he grins at Nina like he's showing me off for the first time. "Mason, you were fabulous," she says with a smile. "You should be so proud."  

Nina's the only one of Dad's girlfriends that I've ever spent more than thirty minutes with, and I thank her and shift my focus to Brianna, next to her. Brianna happens to be the only one of us who isn't smiling. She's a thirteen-year-old tragedy-in-waiting,that kid. The face of gloom. As far as I can see, it doesn't have much to do with Dad and Nina's engagement either. She's been like that ever since we met.  

"Your dad tells me you're off to celebrate now," Nina says with a cheerful nod. "Don't let us keep you."  

I smile wider because Nina's got my number. Yolanda Solomon's extremely cool parents have handed over their house until one-thirty. There's not a second to lose. "Say hi to Burke for me, okay?" I tell her. Burke is Brianna's six-and-a-half-year-old brother.He's so normal that you'd never guess they share DNA.  

"Will do," Nina replies. "I'll see you at the engagement shower."  

The engagement shower's doubling as a housewarming party. Everything but the wedding has been pushed forward on account of Nina's landlord selling their condo--they weren't supposed to move in with us until the end of September. Not that I mind. I only have a year and a half before I go away to university, and Nina's okay.  

"Do you need any cash?" Dad asks. He was here on opening night too but he wanted to come back with Nina.  

"Well, I won't turn it down." My jaw aches from smiling so hard. It's impossible to stop.  

Dad pulls out his wallet and hands me forty bucks, and then I'm edging my way through the crowd towards Jamie. "You guys got a ride?" Yolanda asks, tapping me on the shoulder. "Miracle still has a couple spots in the van."  

"We're cool," Jamie says, charging towards us. "We're going with Charlie and Chris." I never have a clue what's going on. Jamie always handles the logistics.  

"Perfect," Y says, scanning the lobby for Zoe. "See you at my place."  

"Have you seen Kat?" I ask, turning towards Jamie. Kat Medina was Jamie's discovery when her family moved to Glenashton from Kitchener three years ago. She's about five feet tall with this cute little Filipino accent and curves like Jennifer Lopez. I think Jamie meant to keep her for himself, but that didn't work out; Jamie can never hide anything from me. Besides, Jamie isn't Kat's type. Lucky for him, I'm not either, which means we all evolved into close friends instead.  

I can't count the number of nights the three of us have hung out in Kat's backyard along with her girls, Michelle Suazo and Sondra, barbecuing ribs and eating her mom's pancit noodles. Used to be that nearly every time a bunch of us would watch slasher movies together, I'd get a late-night call from Kat, scared to shut her eyes. I'd camp out on the phone with her talking about the funniest, most nonthreatening things I could imagine until she was too dog-tired to be freaked out anymore. Those movies don't spook her as much now but we still do the late-night conversations when one of us can't sleep.  

"I think she already left with Hugo," Jamie says. Hugo's this half-Asian, half-black senior from the track team--the flawless-specimen-of-the-human-race type that Kat always falls for. They've been together two months.  

"Okay," I tell him. "Let's roll."  

And we're off. Charlie cranks M.I.A. on the stereo and in no time we're pulling into Yolanda's drive, helping her and Zoe set up the coolers and munchies. "Can someone call for pizza?" Z asks, looking right at Jamie. If you want something done right, he's your man. He's always one of the most responsible people in a room, even when he's partying. Two months ago I saw him steal this guy Anthony's jacket (with his car keys inside) at the end of a party to stop him from driving drunk. He was scared Anthony would pound him into the carpet, so wouldn't admit to taking it at the time, but what counts is that he stopped Anthony from climbing behind the wheel. In the end someone else might've too, but Jamie's usually the first one to think of these things.  

"I'll start the pizza fund," I volunteer, fumbling around for one of Dad's twenties. People are already sauntering through the front door, grabbing beer, and I point them in the direction of the pizza fund and talk to Charlie Kady and Dustin over the sound of the music. None of us have come down from our performance high yet and we don't intend to. The music gets louder and the beer chills and before you know it everybody's there and it's happening just like Y and Z planned--the perfect party.

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The Sweetest Thing You Can Sing

The Sweetest Thing You Can Sing

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